Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is a fighting game spin-off from the Touhou Project – a series of video games, print works, and CDs that follow protagonist Reimu Hakurei adventuring through a haunted region of Japan. Reimu, as well as the series’ secondary character Marisa Kirisame, join a host of playable characters to seemingly fight each other for a bit and have a good old laugh about it afterwards (because why not?).
At its core, Burst Battle is a fighting game with immediate similarities to ARMS and Pokkén Tournament DX; you battle it out in a 3D arena with a variety of attacks assigned to different buttons. The ‘A’ button acts as your main attack, ‘Y’ is a sub attack, and ‘X’ is a charge attack – all three of these have a cool-down period when used too much. The attacks (and available combos) vary slightly between characters and you’ll likely find yourself preferring certain play-styles over others, although the differences are rather minimal for the most part. You are also able to jump and dash, allowing you to dodge attacks or move around the battlefield quicker, as well as being able to block with the ‘L’ button. This block seems very temperamental, though, and pressing the corresponding button often doesn’t actually do anything.
Unfortunately the fighting is never really the thrilling, well-polished and accurate experience that it needs to be. The camera isn’t the easiest to keep on top of and often you’ll lose track of your opponent’s location. When a player is knocked to the ground they seem to stay down for an entire age – during this time there is nothing you can do except sit and wait. When you pick yourself back up again you’ll be momentarily protected from attacks, which is useful, but most typically want a fighting game to feel fast and action packed; everything about this game - from the knock-downs to the general movement in arenas - feels sluggish.
The game’s Story Mode sees you play through five fights against CPU opponents before meeting the final boss (which is genuinely terrifying in its own, creepy way). You re-play these fights as different characters, seeing the same story told from alternative view points. This is a nice concept in theory but on later run-throughs you’ll start to get bored of the characters wondering what the final boss might be when you’ve already seen it countless times. Of course, the storyline isn’t really the most important part – but when that’s the only thing separating this mode from every other in the game, we would have hoped for more.
There is also an Arcade Mode which sees you play match after match, aiming to beat your high-score of successive victories. Your health only recovers slightly after each round so it becomes a test of stamina, trying to ensure you lose as little health as possible each time. Score Attack mode is exactly the same as Arcade except for the the high-score setup. Instead of accumulating victories, you gain points depending on how well you performed in each round. As before though, your health only recovers slightly and you just fight until you lose.
If you’re after a more relaxing experience (although all modes are rather sedate in truth), you can play against the computer in the ‘VS Com’ mode just for fun, altering your opponents’ difficulty level, or just do some training if you prefer. Despite there being a training mode, no real guidance is given as to how to play – some attacks and combos are listed in a menu but the game never explains what the ‘Charge’ and ‘Action’ bars on the fighting screen actually do. It also never explains how to use a Spell Card – a particularly strong attack that appears to work in the same way as Pokkén’s ‘Synergy Burst’ or ARMS’ ‘Rush Attack’.
As well as this you have the option to play against others locally via split-screen, or local wireless connection (which is confusingly called ‘VS Online’). The split-screen mode works exactly as you might expect, one player takes the left side of the screen whilst the other has their own view on the right, and runs just as the main single player mode does. Playing via local wireless allows to users to play on their own consoles independently – one must host a room and wait for their friend to join. There is no option to play with players around the world online, however.
The presentation within the game’s menus and storytelling is beautiful, featuring wonderful illustrations of characters from the series. Unfortunately, though, the same cannot really be said for the fighting gameplay itself – the characters look a little ‘clunky’ and to move they actually float along the ground rather than walk. This sums up the game on the whole; it all feels a little weak, never quite realising its ambitions and falling flat at every step. With such great fighting alternatives already available on the console, the only reason we could really see for wanting this is to grab yourself a cheaper alternative. The problem here is that it isn’t actually that cheap; the difference in price between this and the major fighting releases does not accurately reflect the difference in quality.
Fans of the Touhou Project might get some enjoyment purely from seeing their favourite characters on the big (or little) screen once more, but this isn’t a quality fighting spin-off. The game’s slow pace, disinteresting plot, and lack of any serious fighting credentials leave an awful lot to be desired. If the game was considerably cheaper you could potentially justify a purchase for having quick, easy-to-set-up fighting rounds; as it stands, though, this may well be best left alone.